Buehrle is a lot like Paul Konerko. He's had a great career with the White Sox, won a World Series and had some pretty neat historical moments along the way.
And, like Konerko, he won't be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Bill James' Hall of Fame monitor (explained here) gives Buehrle a significantly worse chance of making the Hall of Fame than Konerko, who scored a 56 on the scale. A score of 100 means a player is a good bet to make the Hall of Fame. Buehrle's score is 39.
Among the starting pitchers ahead of Buehrle: Jason Schmidt, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Jamie Moyer. Sure, Buehrle's score will improve — in other words, how he's viewed in the eyes of voters will as well — as his career goes on.
But, if we're gauging this by wins (only because others with voting power still do), Buehrle won't come close to a magic number. He sits at 154 right now, meaning 46 more times he'll have to pitch well and pray he gets run support or the bullpen doesn't blow the game (or, conversely, pitch terribly and be bailed out by his offense) to reach 200. If he plays four more seasons, that's about 12 wins per year, which is just a hair below what Buehrle the offense, defense, bullpen and Buehrle have averaged in the last two seasons.
But wins are becoming an increasingly unimportant statistic even in the eyes of the most hardened old-school baseball writer. Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke's Cy Young trophies are fine evidence of the strides being made in pitcher evaluation, even if some still use the archaic W to value a hurler.
Looking beyond Buehrle's wins, he has a career ERA of 3.84, which places him No. 696 on baseball's all-time ERA leaderboard. Just barely below him are names such as Bud Black, Chuck Finley and the illustrious Vinegar Bend Mizell. John Smiley, Al Leiter and the falsely-advertised (although he was from Cairo...Illinois) Egyptian Healy sit just ahead of Buehrle.
If we adjust ERA for era, Buehrle does a lot better. His 119 ERA+ is tied for No. 127 all-time. Warren Spahn and Bob Lemon have the same mark, while Bert Blyleven highlights a slew of Hall-of-Famers below Buehrle on the list. Just ahead of him? Old Hoss Radbourn, at 119.
So, taking into account the steroid/juiced ball/etc. era, Buehrle fairs pretty well in a historical lens. But so does Bret Saberhagen (126). Ditto Carlos Zambrano (125) and Kevin Appier (121). Obviously, ERA isn't everything.
Buehrle never has been a dominant pitcher like, say, Justin Verlander is dominant. He's averaged just over five strikeouts per nine innings over his 12-year career, and that number very well could slip below five if Buehrle continues to pitch deep into his 30's.
His 2.05 walks per nine innings average placed him just outside the top 100 all-time — again, good, but not great.
But here's the real kicker: When Buehrle ends his career, his WAR will place him as a top 100 pitcher in baseball history.
Baseball-Reference has Buehrle at 45 WAR for his career, tied with Wilbur Wood for 102nd all-time. If Buehrle pitches three more seasons (a big 'if'), we give him 1.5 more WAR for 2011 and eight WAR for those final three years, that puts him at 54.5 career WAR.
Which is right in line with Saberhagen's career WAR. Oh well.
If Buehrle can find a way to pitch to 60 WAR, he may be a guy who could receive some support from the geeks behind their computers. That probably won't be Hall of Fame support, instead, it'll probably be more of "hey, Mark Buehrle was better than you think, and he should at least stay on the ballot for a few years."
When Buehrle does decide to retire, though, I have to imagine he'll quickly have his name, face and number up on the left field wall at U.S. Cellular Field. He'll be the last White Sox player to ever wear No. 56, and maybe he'll even get a statue next to Billy Pierce — the last great White Sox left-hander, and one who finished his career with 53.4 WAR.
So even if Buehrle doesn't have a realistic chance at Cooperstown, his lasting legacy in Chicago is certainly a nice consolation prize.